Soul Calibur V Review

The word “gratuitous” comes to mind whilst talking about the Soul Calibur series, with its gratuitous story, absurd weapons and characters. Whilst most of the game is lighthearted, fun and a great multiplayer game, there are some things I need to address before delving into the mechanics, customisation and all that.

I’m not a fan of the way that Namco has marketed this game in some of their posters. For those who do not know, they are risqué pictures featuring Ivy’s breasts and behind. If this is the marketing route you’re going down to get players to buy the game then I’m out. It’s not only a problem with the marketing but overall character design in the Soul Calibur series.

Hilde is a warrior princess donned in full armour. Her provenance and backstory show through in the armour and attire she wears for battle. Lexica’s attire shows her eastern background and that is reflected in her character and the way she fights. Now lets have a look at the aforementioned Ivy. Dominatrix gear, fights with a whip and has an incredibly revealing outfit – it gives no clue whatsoever to her background or where she comes from. How are players supposed to clue on to the fact that she’s an English noblewoman? Now this is all apparent with the male characters such as Mitsurugi, who is quite obviously a Samurai, Xiba, Seigfried, I could go on with the amalgam of characters who have an adequate representation, but in particular I can’t help but feel uncomfortable with the representation of women in this game.

Many other female characters sport skimpy clothing for what is honestly no good reason. There is a lot of blatant sexualisation in many of the female characters that should not go unnoticed. Voldo is the only sexualised male character in the game and it’s easy to tell that there is a massive gulf between the number of sexualised male characters compared to number of female ones. Combine that with some patented jiggle physics and you’ve got yourselves a game that teenage boys will drool over. Sex sells. Namco knows it and we should not at all stand for something that grossly misrepresents women in videogames. This immaturity needs to stop.

The game itself is a joy to play. There are a number of modes both offline and online that are up to the standards of this new golden age of fighting games. You have your typical Arcade Mode, which takes you through several stages and a boss. As with many fighting games, doing this will help you unlock new characters in the game. There’s a quick battle, VS mode and training mode as well as a new mode called “Legendary Souls” which unlocks after you have met certain parameters in the game, and honestly, I never beat it. The mode is a relentless boss rush which left me in tatters.

The story mode is fairly lacklustre when compared to Mortal Kombat’s, which has probably the best story and plot in a fighting game, and Soul Calibur V just does not live up to that standard set last year. The story is told through a storyboard with audio and that’s poor on Namco’s part; at least put some effort into this. Some key scenes were even included as a proper animated cutscene, but 90% of the time it was a simple, lazily put together storyboard. It felt as if this was an afterthought and not an integral part of the game, as Mortal Kombat‘s story mode showed with its polished cutscenes and plot. 

Assassin's Creed posterboy Ezio Auditore stars in Soul Calibur V as a guest character

My Soul Calibur V skill is incredibly poor, something that was made even more apparent when I played the game with friends on the game’s local multiplayer VS mode. It’s all a fairly standard fighting game affair and the good thing about this iteration in the series is that it’s very accessible to newer players.

The accessibility is helped by the game’s simple buttons; you have A, B, K and Block. The buttons being on four keys helps immensely with the way that the game plays on a standard gamepad and an arcade stick is entirely optional and not as essential as games such as Street Fighter IV. There is a significant change in combat however and that’s the inclusion of super moves that you use once you have built up a gauge next to your character’s name. These moves are not dissimilar to Super and Ultra moves seen in Super Street Fighter IV and these can now change the tide of a battle completely, adding a completely new dynamic to Soul Calibur V and changing up the formula so the game does not become iterative.

Something of a staple to the Soul Calibur series is its extensive “Creation” mode, where I could create my own characters that looked completely different to the ones Namco designed themselves, which is a good thing because Soul Calibur’s character design is something which I have an issue with. I love that I’m able to create my own character and was able to create in my head a Mongolian warlord that bent people to his will with nunchucks, without a care in the world for Nightmare’s massive sword. In Tekken 6 I was disappointed that a similar mode was not implemented. This is one place where Soul Calibur V shines, with a wealth of customisation options such as height, build and a wide range of clothing available. This makes playing the game online more exciting as I was actually eager to see other players’ creations.

Soul Calibur V is a blast to play. I love the simplicity of its combat, the customisation options are varied and its multiplayer experience is brilliant due to the changes made in combat. The game’s sadly overshadowed by blatant sexism and it’s something that we cannot ignore. The competitive E-sports scene behind fighting games have to universally get over this. Soul Calibur V is not the only offender of this, but other series’ like Dead or Alive also do this and it needs to stop. I love fighting games, I enjoy watching Street Fighter IV streams when it comes to tournament time, but it’s issues such as this that hold the games back from mainstream success and sadly, although I enjoy the game’s mechanics, I cannot recommend a game that provides such a gross misrepresentation of women.

Soul Calibur V is out on PS3 and Xbox 360 February 3rd.
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